Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, home of the Twins and the Timberwolves — and the unlikely incubator for a growing number of radical jihadists.
As many as 15 Somali-American men from Minneapolis-St. Paul left home in recent months to enlist with radical groups and join the fighting in Syria, according to the FBI.
“They all had the same issues,” said Mohamud Noor, acting executive director for the Confederation of Somali Communities in Minnesota. “They are young men who are looking and looking for their identity.”
Two of them reportedly turned up dead last week on the same Syrian battlefield far from home: Douglas McAuthur McCain and Abdirahmann Muhumed.
McCain, 33, was a convert to Islam who became increasingly radicalized in the years before enlisting with the terrorist forces of the Islamic State (ISIS), authorities said.
Muhumed, a 29-year-old father of nine, was apparently involved in the same firefight with Free Syrian Army fighters that left McCain dead.
“Allah loves those who fight for his cause,” Muhumed posted on his Facebook page earlier this year. The homegrown terrorist bolted Minnesota in 2012.
But authorities say the issue dates back at least seven years in the region. The most notorious cased involved local man Troy Kastigar converting to Islam and joining the terrorist group al-Shabab.
The group was behind the September 2013 attack that killed 67 people inside the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
U.S.-born Kastigar, killed in 2009 in Mogadishu, was among the first wave of local men who answered the call to join the jihad in Somalia.
Kastigar was the son of a Native American mom, and changed religions about three years before his death.
“We are concerned how this radicalization and recruitment is being facilitated,” local FBI spokesman Kyle Loven told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “These questions are high priority, and we want to answer them shortly.”
Noor said there are a variety of issues, from poverty to peer pressure.
“Recruitment can happen in many ways,” he said. “This is friends of friends helping each other. That we know for sure.”
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said last week there were more than 100 American jihadists fighting abroad. Some are from the New York area, raising concerns that radicals could bring terror to our doorstep.
“We are watching that very closely,” he said.